Tuesday, June 12, 2012

With Stories We Defeat the Separateness

In this blog space, I've referred to something I call "separateness"...

Relationships and Separate Journeys

Separateness - What I Don't Know about my Friends

Intimacy, Separateness and Social Media

Although not a commonly used term, "separateness" is our inability to know what's really going on in the lives of even our closest friends. What events in their lives caused them to arrive at this point? What have they been doing since I last saw them? Who are they, really? What memories, relationships, habits, thoughts, attitudes, values, and feelings influence their behavior? What's their story?

When I'm being totally honest and realistic about it, I have to admit I don't have much of a clue.

And neither do you. You may think you do, but you don't. That's why after being married to someone for 15 or 20 years, you still learn things that surprise you. Important things.

The reality is that we can't be informed about everything there is to know about a person. Every individual is traveling a life journey that we know little about.

The health of my father-in-law, who is nearly 90 years old, has been steadily declining. What has this last part of his life journey been like for him? I've visited with him and I get all the reports from other family members, and I try to imagine what it must be like, but to be honest I'm not privy to the details, especially his subjective day-to-day experience.

Today I went to the gym, got some ideas, worked on some of my writing projects, did some chores, had some conversations, made some notes, wandered around the yard, made some decisions, reflected about life (yes, some of my thoughts were about my father-in-law), watched some of the NBA finals...

One of my thoughts: Nobody who knows me was aware of the quality of my day. Nobody who knows me really understands where my journey is taking me.

They may think they know me and what's going on in my life, but they're aware of so little. Especially friends I haven't seen in a while. My life journey is ultimately a very private affair.

We briefly defeat this separateness through storytelling. By sharing stories, we reveal what can't be known any other way - a small piece of our journey.

I think that's why I like fiction and film so much. The No. 1 thing I acquired from my Ph.D. studies at Duke University over 35 years ago was a love of stories. Whether in magazines, books, articles, blog posts or movies, I love stories. I get my money's worth from my Netflix account. During the past several years, I've watched nearly 2,000 movies.

When I'm with someone, what I want more than anything else is the story. It could be someone I've just met. It could be an old friend I haven't seen in a while. It could be my wife. "What happened?" I'll say. "Go on...then what happened?"

Stories are how we get closer to people. Stories are how we calm the feeling that we're alone in our existence. Without stories, intimacy is impossible. For me, this has to happen one-on-one. Preferably in person. The phone is a poor substitute, but I'll take it if that's all I can get. Social media? No sir, no possibility of storytelling there....

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2012. Building Personal Strength .


Beth said...

So true, Denny. I think of this often, this existential problem of not being able to get out of our own skin. We try to merge (oh how we try!), but in the end, from birth to death, our journey is indeed a solitary one. Your words help me better understand why story-sharing is so poignant, wondrous and critical to my own well-being and tranquility.

Anonymous said...

Awonderful post. Thank you for sharing it.

Nick said...

This is a thought-provoking topic. Stories are a wonderful way to connect with others. They can help someone understand what you experience, how you interpret those experiences, and what you want to become. What is interesting about stories is that they can be told through a variety of mediums: writing, talking, illustrating, and touching, among others.

If storytelling makes up an important part of our experience, then natural curiosity might be equally important. Few people would listen to someone else's story if they weren't interested. This is not to say that you can't listen to someone when you aren't interested. It is that it would be difficult to give that person your undivided attention.

Good storytelling requires a proactive audience. I find the questioning and answering after the story to be the most valuable part. It also allows people the opportunity to connect with the storyteller and explain their experience.

The result is a conversation and not a one-sided monologue. Good conversations are difficult to come by. They are special.

Real conversations, not necessarily storytelling by itself, are what can help break our loneliness. I'll think about this post when I'm catching up with my old friends.

Thank you for sharing your story.